Sounders Win Away, But Story Is Zakuani

I’d like to take the Brian Mullan tackle on Steve Zakuani in an unpopular direction.

Zakuani downed....

Friday night in Colorado, the Sounders made a 1-0 win stand-up in the face of what was some heartfelt agony at losing their teammate Steve Zakuani on an unfortunate tackle in the early minutes.

A confluence of circumstances, and some may say a frustration tackle by veteran Brian Mullan, led to Steve Zakuani’s career being put in peril. Breaks to both the tibia and fibia. Mullan slid in aggressively as Zakuani planted on his right foot. All that could heard as the pop of breaking bones.

You have to feel for Zakuani, like Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo before him, a finesse and pace-based player whose career may be forever changed by the tackle (let’s hope not.)

On Mullan’s side, a moment of lack of judgement–there is no defending the reckless challenge–will now forever stain a professional career that has earned him five MLS Cups. His mark–no pun intended–on the game will be forever tarnished by the tackle. A crude badge of dishonor.

I said I was going to take the commentary on the tackle in another direction. I had a friend growing up, Keith Ball, who he and I battled unmercilessly on the baseball diamond. On the field, Keith was an enormous talent who played hard and played to win. Off the field, perhaps the nicest guy in the room. On field, pardon, but a dickhead, win at all costs sort of fellow.

But he’s that player, like a Brian Mullan, who added that toughness necessary–in any league by any team–as an integral ingredient to a side.

I don’t condone what Brian Mullan did–and debate will see-saw on his character and “the dirtiness” of the play for the next few days–but I do know it’s the game and that moment, “the moment” is consuming, leading players to both great exaltation and other times, like tonight, sheer anguish.

That same power that willed a Landon Donovan shot into the back of the net against Algeria worked in reverse this evening.

It’s the nature of the game. It’s unavoidable. It’s how it goes.

Unfortunately, Steve Zakuani was on the receiving end. Hopefully, he will make a speedy recovery and exhibit the same speed, and more, that made him a dangerous player with the ball and tonight’s horror moment will be but a bottoming footnote in a highlight reel career.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Woody on 2011/04/23 at 12:21 AM

    This is why all studs up tackles that make contact with another player should result in straight red cards. If Zakuani’s foot isn’t planted, he has a nasty bruise and Mullan gets a yellow card, sometimes they get away scot free.


  2. Posted by Erik on 2011/04/23 at 5:55 AM

    Wow Brian might be a nice guy off the field no one cares. You are who you are at your worst not your best. Brian at the end of the day is a dirty, classless player. When Shawcross snapped a limb he was crying he was so upset. Brian was upset about the card. I heard he was spotted crying after the match. As he WALKED to his car.


  3. Nature of the game? In the 3rd minute? You can’t go in on a tackle like that in a non-danger situation where you blindside the person on the ball. 3rd freaking minute! so enraged.


  4. Posted by Jake C on 2011/04/23 at 6:17 AM

    It’s a tough part of the game. I’m sure Mullan isn’t Satan–only a heartless bastard wouldn’t be shattered after seeing the effects of a tackle like that. I’ll save the invective against him for that reason, but if MLS doesn’t give him a hefty suspension I’ll be mad. Tackles like that have to go from the American game.


  5. Posted by Joe on 2011/04/23 at 7:52 AM

    I think what makes part of the injury so enraging and disheartening is who it happened to. Steve is such a nice guy and competitor. He was a star in the making and was out to prove this season that he was the best winger in the league. I wish him a speedy recovery and hope he comes back stronger. Agree with Taylor Twellmen #Revengeshouldbe20goals


  6. Posted by Buckyball on 2011/04/23 at 10:34 AM

    Fan of a rival club, but I am outraged by Zakuani’s leg break. Two thoughts:

    The MLS is a league where there’s often a lot more perspiration than creative inspiration, so coaches depend on and encourage spikey challenges to try to control the creative players. Zakuani’s leg doesn’t break and the Rapids coaches are all, “Yeah, get stuck in!”

    In a sport where a long career is ten years and innate quickness is a big part of any player’s skill set, Zakuani has to ponder that he may never be the same player again, no matter how hard he works on his rehab. Yeah, life has risks, but I can’t accept that Mullan is out for a few games and then is back plying his destructive trade.


  7. Posted by Neandrewthal on 2011/04/23 at 7:11 PM

    This is not an MLS problem. Stu Holden will play next to no part in another major tournament because of a reckless challenge from play in the EPL.


  8. Posted by Dustin on 2011/04/24 at 4:19 PM

    The tackle was horrible, but Mullan’s complete lack of remorse or even an apology are what are more abhorrent. He didn’t even stop to see if Zakuani was alright, before he started arguing with the ref about the clear red card. His post game quote was:

    “I’m sorry for Steve (Zakuani),” Mullan said. “It was never my intention to injure him in the least. It’s a tackle that I’ve done hundreds of times and would probably do again. I had no intention of hurting him. It’s a freak, freak thing, and I apologize and wish Steve a speedy recovery.”

    Notice the “It’s a tackle that I’ve done hundreds of times and would probably do again.” That is a problem, and if he intends to continue to make tackles like that, while not taking responsibility for them, when he breaks another player’s leg, he should have no place in this league.


  9. One thing I haven’t seen brought up is the impact of the fake grass on this incident. Who knows, perhaps the tackle leads to a broken leg regardless of if they’re playing on artificial turf or real grass, but it’s a proven fact that playing on artificial turf instead of grass increases the risks of major injuries to players because of the lack of give on the field and the increased traction. Playing on real grass is not just better for the aesthetic qualities of the game, but in a game like soccer, where tackles are coming fast and furious around planted legs, there’s no place for artificial turf. If this tackle had happened on real grass, as bad as it was, Zakuani’s foot might not have stayed planted in the turf and he might have just ended up with a minor injury or nothing at all. There’s no place for artificial grass in this league if it really has designs on being a major footballing league.


    • Posted by J. on 2011/04/25 at 12:42 PM

      I am also not a fan of artificial turf, but to be clear, they were playing on real grass. The folks at Dick’s Sporting Good’s Park do a fantastic job keeping the natural grass looking nearly perfect. As a result, many note that and make a wrong assumption about the climate in the area and conclude it must be fake. It is not.


  10. Having followed Mullan for many seasons in Houston he’s simply a competitor and not a hit man. I can’t give too fair an opinion on the tackle itself (I’ve only watched it once and that was all I could take) but he’s not a guy known for playing dirty. He made a bad decision in the moment and it was as unlucky as it could possibly be.

    That being said he deserves a lengthy suspension, it’s just unfortunate that this will most likely become his legacy. Thoughts and prayers go out to Zakuani for a speedy and full recovery.


  11. […] was discussed on TSG here, but the key point of infuriation stems around Mullan’s lack of contriteness both during the […]


  12. Posted by Colin on 2011/04/25 at 11:19 AM

    Same result as a Nigel De Jong tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa earlier this season.

    Good news for Zakuani is that Ben Arfa has been back in training for a few weeks and is in line to make a competitive appearance for Newcastle before the season is over.


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